Dear Mom,


I keep wanting to call you, but this is easier.

I’m writing from Laugarvatn, Iceland. The wind has been shaking my wooden, low-gabled room with its many windows for three non-consecutive days. Yesterday it took a break and let me catch up on sleep. It was quiet, so I kept wondering about you, about what you’re up to. Yesterday was peaceful, and nice, and the sky was clean of clouds, and even though all the apps said the chances were good, we saw no auroras.

(The moon though, rose from the horizon, behind a mountain like a tilted pumpkin, blazing orange, and at first, we thought lava? If we weren’t looking for the northern lights, we never would have seen it. It was a little unnerving, but mostly it was beautiful.)

The wind does not howl here. Here it sounds like the ocean attacking the shore with its waves and then just as aggressively, retreating them. Maybe it has something to do with the sparsity of trees. I really don’t know.

All the ground I can see is covered in snow, and the mountains in the distance, even the sky seems covered with snow. Sometimes, when I’m outside tromping around in my boots, watching the wind lift and drift the snow, I pretend I’ve crash landed on the moon.

When I first arrived, the roads to get here from the airport, through Reykjavik were closed so the taxi driver navigated us though lava fields in a blizzard.

(All I could see was the dark of the night and the white glow of snow, but I could smell the sulfur, and it was a beautiful smell because I knew, even though I couldn’t see the lava, it was there.)

I keep feeling like I brought you with me, like I can feel you here, which is crazy because you’ve never been to Iceland. You’ve never even mentioned Iceland. And I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I think about you differently while I’m here. I don’t miss you in the same way. I can’t even say I long to talk to you. I just keep nearly grabbing the phone and calling you up. I just keep thinking I can call you.

I just really want to chat.

There’s a lot you’ve been missing.

The black licorice game in Iceland is insane. I nearly made myself sick last night on balls of chocolate covered licorice. You would love it! And there’s so many kinds I still haven’t tried. I’ll get some for you. I’ll bring some home and maybe you can finally visit.

There are ravens here. I’ve caught them spying on me. Odin’s eyes. I’ve promised myself to feed them, to make friends with them if I can.

I’ve also seen murmurations of starlings. I think that’s what they are. The clots of black birds making haunting and mesmerizing shapes together in the air.

The other day, I thought I saw some kind of Bigfoot out of my window, all limbs in silhouette like the grainy pictures on the internet, but it was just a man, a cross country skier in a black snowsuit, adjusting his posture.

I don’t even think you’d like it here. The weather would aggravate your arthritis and you wouldn’t be able to walk in the snow, and the currency would confuse you, and you’d miss the fast food that you’re used to.

Things are stripped to the essentials here.

Things are stripped to the extremes. Harsh cold weather. Steaming hot water. Fatty lamb, dairy, smoked fish. Bitter licorice, herbal liquor, and so many sweets, so much sugar.

This village is named after the lake. There is a popular spa here, where people steam and boil themselves and buy bread baked in the ground. I haven’t been there yet. You have to shower naked to dip into their waters. You would hate that. You would never do that. You would never feel safe.

You’d be excited for me to be here though. You would be so proud. You would tell everyone you know. You’d keep careful track of the time difference, and you’d call. Actually. I wouldn’t even get the chance to because you’d be so hungry to hear about my day, about my little dramas.

(I opened the door yesterday and as soon as I stepped out, snow slipped off the eaves and fell on my head and down the back of my fleece.)

And maybe that’s why I want to call you so badly, because you are not calling me. There is a quiet that you are supposed to be filling.

(You don’t even know about the pandemic, about what happened with Chad, or that Ed died, and Evie is living with Dad again. June has died too. And Ashes. Elliott has learned so many words. Alex is practically a man. Christine is so strong, and I am emerging…and you for all your talk about ghosts and angels I thought you would visit, I thought I would see your shadow on the wall, your flicker in a light bulb, your rock in your old wooden chair.)

I came all this way to find myself, to find out who I was without you, but I am not.

I remember when I last saw you, bald as a plain of snow, black stitches spanning your scalp like mountains.

Laugarvatn, Iceland.

Caroljean Gavin is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in places such as Milk Candy Review, Fractured, New World Writing, Best Small Fictions, and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. She’s the author of the flash fiction chapbook, Shards of a Stained-Glass Moving Picture Fairytale (Selcouth Station Press), and editor of What I Thought of Ain’t Funny, an anthology of short fiction based on the jokes of Mitch Hedberg (Malarkey Books/Mythic Picnic) and Saturnalia ’21 (LUPERCALIApress) She is on Twitter: @caroljeangavin